Drinking in Calgary parks: what you need to know before you crack a beer

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Starting June 1, Calgarians will be able to drink alcohol at designated picnic tables in select parks throughout the city as part of a new pilot project.

“The City of Calgary really hopes this will be a safe opportunity to connect with a friend or two outside during a challenging time, especially if someone doesn’t have a backyard or suitable backyard,” Laura Smith with the City of Calgary said Wednesday.

Here’s what Calgarians need to know about the pilot project:

Drinking is only allowed at 30 select picnic tables… for now

The pilot project doesn’t mean you can drink at any picnic table in any Calgary park; look for a sign like the one below to determine if you’re at one of the select few where it is allowed.

“We’re starting with about 30 tables or so and if all goes well we’ll add more in the coming weeks,” Smith said.

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For more information on which parks are included in the pilot program, visit the City of Calgary’s website for a full list.

The 30 picnic tables were chosen with care

“We looked at every single picnic table in the city of Calgary and we picked the picnic tables that were at least 30 metres away from a playground or a school,” Smith explained.

“We’ve already got our firepits out there so we wanted to make sure there was some distance from the firepits, river access points — that kind of thing — so that whittled it down to the 30 that we’ve got.”

Smith said they have another 30 picnic tables they could potentially expand to if the pilot goes well.

None of the picnic tables are available in busy regional parks… for now

The City of Calgary said the picnic tables where drinking is allowed are only located in smaller, neighbourhood parks.

“In choosing locations, we avoided regional parks and that was mostly because of COVID-19,” Smith said.

“Last year, we saw tremendous crowding at Eau Claire, Bowness, Edworthy. All of our big, major regional parks are already pretty (much) at capacity and it’s hard to distance when they’re at that capacity –- so we didn’t want to add one more element into a regional park that might make it more crowded and more difficult to distance during COVID-19.

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Read more:
Calgary city council approves alcohol consumption pilot project

“So right now, all of the parks are local, and they really are nestled into the neighbourhoods and often within walking distance.

“(We’re) really encouraging people to stay in their community rather than driving to the regional parks, which are getting a little too crowded during COVID-19.”

As the program processes and COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta are eased, Smith said there is a chance picnic tables in regional parks may be added in.

You can reserve a picnic table in advance

The picnic tables where booze is permitted are available to be booked through the City of Calgary’s virtual booking system or they can be used on a first-come, first-served basis. However, the city said priority will be given to those who booked a table and have a permit.

“If the table is reserved we will have ‘reserved’ signs out,” Smith said. “So if you get there at 12 p.m., you might see at 1 p.m. it’s going to be reserved.”

The online booking system divides the parks into four groups — one for each city quadrant.

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Reservations are available (for free) in two-hour time blocks of:

  • Noon – 2 p.m.
  • 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
  • 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

The city says the online reservations must be made five days in advance.

No drinking after 9 p.m.

Alcohol can only be consumed at the specified picnic tables between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

Leave your booze on the table

Alcohol can’t be carried around the park. If you walk off to play frisbee or toss away some garbage, your booze has to remain on your picnic table.

When your drink is empty, throw it away or recycle it.

It’s likely there won’t be a washroom nearby

“Because these are in local neighbourhood parks, there are usually no washrooms nearby,” Smith said.

She said this is because the pilot program is for only moderate drinking.

“If I’m going to go to a picnic and have a glass of wine, I’m probably not going to be in desperate need of a washroom.”

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Drink in moderation

Public intoxication is still not permitted and the city says it will not be tolerated.

“We’re really counting on help from Calgarians to make this pilot program a success and we’re encouraging moderate and responsible drinking,” Smith said.

If someone is being distributive or is intoxicated, they may be approached by a police officer or a community peace officer, who could ask them to stop drinking.

COVID-19 restrictions still apply

People using the picnic tables are still expected to follow Alberta’s COVID-19 health restrictions, including gathering limits and physical distancing requirements.

In addition, the City of Calgary also suggests people wear masks when visiting with people outside their household and maintain good hand hygiene.

The pilot only runs until early September

The project runs until Sept. 7, at which time it will be discontinued if the city determines too many complaints were filed or it was too disruptive.

“If we find that we have excess litter — especially broken glass — around the sites, those sites will be pulled very quickly,” Smith said.

To report a complaint or provide feedback on this program you can call 311.

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The next steps for the pilot will be discussed in the fall

City administration will review the pilot project and report results back to council in November.

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